Logan Lucky

The Logan family is cursed with bad luck. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) can’t hold down a job due to the injury that derailed his future prospects as a football star, Clyde (Adam Driver) lost his hand in the process of returning home from Iraq, and there’s a history of mishaps and misfortunes in their family that seem too bad to just be coincidence. They’re stolid folk, too, to the point that they’re known amongst the locals for being simple. But, as we grow to learn over the course of Logan Lucky, the Logans aren’t idiots. They’re just earnest.

The entire film is built on that kind of earnestness. For the most part, Steven Soderbergh’s return from retirement runs at a handsome clip, as breezy as the NASCAR race from under which the Logan clan is about to steal an untold sum of money. In any other heist movie, that’d be enough, and an impressive feat in and of itself, but Logan Lucky takes it one step further by stopping to smell the roses, too. Jokes run on without wearing out, their punch lines more the scenario that we’re witnessing than any single witticism, and scenes take all the time they need instead of simply making way for the next gag. The best sequences are those that linger; they’re the grounding influence in a movie that could otherwise easily fly away on how ingenious it is.

Take, for instance, Jimmy’s set of ten rules to follow as he begins to plot out the heist that he’s determined will reverse the family’s bad fortune before it does them any more harm and before it gets to their sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They’re all simple points, things like “know when to get out,” but they underline a plot that involves breaking into prison to break out safecracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), then breaking him back in before anyone notices that he’s gone, as well as inciting a prison riot, and getting around the security guards at the racetrack they’re trying to rob. Even the characters seem larger than life – Craig’s character’s name is Joe Bang, for chrissakes — but each moment we spend with them makes it clearer and clearer that they’re only human, too.

There’s no villain, there’s no malice (save for the general aura around Seth Macfarlane’s Max Chilblain), there’s just the kind of yearning that’s made clear from the moment the movie opens with Jimmy explaining — in detail — why he loves John Denver so much despite the artifice that sometimes comes hand in hand with art. The movie’s stakes don’t come from the heist itself so much as what’s on the line if it doesn’t work out. Joe is five months away from getting out of prison, and Jimmy is contending with the fact that his ex-wife (Katie Holmes) might be moving out of state and taking their daughter (Farrah Mackenzie) with her. There’s no need to tread into darkness; the simple ins and outs of living are enough.

As such, Logan Lucky is a rarity on multiple levels, just as remarkable as what the film comes to call “the Hillbilly Heist.” Tatum’s status as Soderbergh’s muse is almost too good to be true — he’s perfect here as an avatar for the kind of quiet goodness that suffuses the entire film — as is the near-volcanic energy that Soderbergh coaxes out of Daniel Craig. He cackles and wisecracks, his hair bleach-blond and with a little star tattooed by his eye, but even with such irrepressible spirit, when the Logan brothers question his methods, he takes the time to write out and explain the chemical equations that inform his work. Again, the movie isn’t afraid to take pause, as best embodied by its smaller characters, including Katherine Waterston as a healthcare professional and Sebastian Stan as a pretentious racer, who don’t necessary add anything in particular to the plot but whose presence would still be missed were they left on the cutting room floor.

Throughout the film, there are flashes of something deeper. The fact that the film’s set in West Virginia, among mines and speedways and kid pageants, is niggling enough as a look at a particular subset of American culture — to wit, one of the plot’s turns hangs on the fact that the local water is contaminated, and another takes a shot at the general negligence in the prison system. There’s a little bit of class commentary at work — all of our leads are hillbillies, after all (one of Joe Bang’s brothers boasts of his technical proficiency by saying he “knows all the Twitters”) — but it’s not a judgment one way or the other. At least, not in any way that’s damning. For better or worse, that kind of comment isn’t what the movie’s interested in.

Logan Lucky is like its characters; it’s high octane and larger than life in the immediate moment, but its staying power is in the quieter moments that are scattered throughout the film. The characters and plot devices may not be entirely new, but Soderbergh derives enough pleasure from setting up the dominoes and then letting them fall that it doesn’t really matter. His energy is infectious, as is the goodwill of the characters we’re watching, even if they are breaking the law.

 /Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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About the Author

Karen Han is a writer based in New York, via the midwest. She writes about film, TV, and Tintin, among other things.